Young voters share why they voted in the midterms

While the data is not yet available to know how many young voters turned out in this midterm election in Forsyth County, young voters between the ages of 18 and 35 said they were motivated to vote by local elections like the school board and county commissioner as well as inflation and reproductive rights.  

Andrea Sheetz is a 22-year-old Forsyth County government employee who voted on Election Day at the Malloy East Winston Heritage Center Branch Library polling site. She has always considered herself to be civic-minded. 

“The longer that our generation votes, the more important our opinions become to the people in power,” Sheetz said. “As we become a growing portion of the electorate as we age, it’s really our voting that will make a difference.” 

Dr. Betina Wilkinson, an associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University, said that young voters tend to take a more liberal view on social issues, driving them toward the Democratic Party. 

“Young voters adopt a much more socially liberal approach to policy issues than their older counterparts. So you have people who are 18 to 35 years of age overwhelmingly in support of gay marriage, Black Lives Matter, access to healthcare and public education,” Wilkinson said. “Those are topics that oftentimes the Democratic Party has done a good job of navigating and proposing legislation to end enacting legislation to be able to address these things.” 

Dr. Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College, told Heard It Here that as the young voter bloc in North Carolina grows, they could turn the battleground state blue because of their Democratic leanings.  

An interview video by Cassie Tan

Mary Kate Appanaitis is a first-year student at Wake Forest School of Law who voted in this midterm election. Having grown up in Winston-Salem in a family that has always emphasized voting, she was aware of the importance of local elections and how they impact the lives of Winston-Salem residents.   

“The people who run the city are important because they have a lot of control over what goes on in the school system and in the local legislature,” Appanaitis said. “I think it’s important to be knowledgeable about that and vote for the issues that affect everyone on a daily basis.”

Sheetz also said that the local elections motivated her vote, particularly the race for school board and county commissioner. 

“I think people underestimate the power of local elections,” Sheetz said. “That’s where a lot of issues that affect us day-to-day are. When we look at COVID protocols and mask mandates, a lot of those votes come down to the local level. Going forward, I hope people have a renewed interest in that.”

Other young voters told Heard It Here that they were motivated to vote because of issues like inflation and reproductive rights. 

“I think there are a lot of issues surrounding the economy, and then also social rights were my major issues I was voting on,” John Coyner, a freshman at Wake Forest University and first-time voter said. “I’m personally pro-choice so I voted for candidates that I thought would uphold that, voting specifically against candidates who would vote on a national level to restrict abortion because I was disappointed by the Dobbs decision in June.” 

Wilkinson said that young voters’ concerns about inflation reflect the concerns of voters of all ages. 

 “It’s very much in line with what the national trends are for the whole population,” Wilkinson said. “Economic issues are big this time around because of the fact that we’re slowly moving out of a pandemic. People are concerned about rising gas prices, rising food prices and job opportunities. Young people are concerned about those things.” 

Other young voters voiced their concern about abortion, as they have only lived under the federal protections of Roe v. Wade, which was overturned by the Supreme Court in June. 

“Clearly, we’re going back in time with things that have been happening like the overturning of Roe v. Wade and laws dealing with criminalization going on right now,” Eman Maadir, a junior at Wake Forest, said. “We’re going back in time instead of progressing. That was the main point about why I voted.”

According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, young voters were projected to have a “decisive influence” on the outcomes of highly competitive races in North Carolina, especially in the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd. CIRCLE created a “Youth Electoral Significance Index” to quantify young people’s likely electoral impact, and North Carolina ranked seventh most impactful in the Senate race category. According to exit polling conducted by CIRCLE published on Nov. 9, youth voters accounted for 14% of the votes in the North Carolina Senate race. 

Cassie Tan contributed to this report.


Author: Christa Dutton